Monday, December 31, 2012

Holiday Food

Here's my holiday table before food this year. The oil pastel sketch is by my sweet Mom, and the china is Grandma Eula's. Mom and Dad gave us the blue water goblets last year. I love to mention these legendary people in my family. This year, the holiday table is from Thanksgiving. Dad came down to be with us and hopefully we will get to see him again in February. Over Christmas, we ventured to Virginia and Maryland to be with family and friends. But I am getting ahead of myself . . . Thanksgiving:

I LOVE any variations on this fresh green bean preparation. This year I added the fresh beans to a whole vidalia onion and plenty of mushrooms and garlic which had been sauteeing for about ten minutes in earth balance and olive oil, I stirred the beans in the pan for only a handful of minutes more, then stirred in gobs of fresh dill and lemon zest, uncooked. This doesn't really need to be hot, it's great at room temperature which helps with the tricky timing a holiday meal can sometimes present. It's also amazing cold, the next day. This beats the pants off the old standby of cream of mushroom, canned beans and canned onion rings, as nostalgic as that casserole tends to be in American culture.

My photographic offerings for this holiday meal post seem to be lacking. I think Dad and I were having martinis while we cooked, and I forgot to snap the finished products. But cooking with Dad is so much fun, it was worth it. Hopefully you can use your imagination to round out my photos. This root veggie melange, russet and sweet potatoes, beets, shallots, celery, pumpkin seeds and dried apricots snipped into tiny bits, was coated with olive oil, pepper and himalayan pink salt (a lovely flavor -- give it a try!) I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and roasted these gems for 40 minutes. The quantity of the roots doesn't really matter, but it's important that they are in a single layer so the whole thing gets crispy and luscious. Imagine these pretty veggies more golden and crispy-brown on the corners. Mmmm.

 These little green sprouts (why, why, why can't some folks seem to love these?) were prepared in much the same way as the root veggies, but I also splashed a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar on them. I don't make too terribly many of these, since I like them best fresh out of the oven. They lose something in the fridge overnight, in my opinion. Again, imagine 'em with a brighter color and brown on the edges.

Along with these veggie offerings, Dad prepared a little turkey - 7 lbs. or so since there were only a few poultry eaters, and he sweetly altered his famous, fabulous sage, mushroom bread dressing for my vegan sensibilities, since it is my very favorite. Thanks, Dad! It was soooo good!

As I mentioned, we took an extended trip to the D.C. area to be with family and friends over Christmas.    While we were gone for over 10 days, no grass grew under our feet. We started out in Williamsburg, to see my alma mater for the first time in many years, then travelled to Richmond to see my grandmother, who will be 97 in August(!), my aunt and uncle and cousins and their families. Driving north, we overnighted in Fredericksburg where Dad lives, then continued to Alexandria, Old Town to be exact, where Andres surprised me with a couple of my college friends and their families. All along, we shared stories with the kids of our lives as newlyweds living and working in our nation's capitol. Visits with more cousins, while touring downtown museums, ensued, and we arrived in Rockville, MD, for Christmas eve, at the home of Andres' mother and stepfather. There were many, many family members there, 25 or so, I think, and Oma hosted the evening with aplomb, in her typical German fashion. It was so good to be with people we've not seen in a while. The next morning we headed south again, to Dad's house, where we finally caught up with my brother and his family from China. We obviously don't get to see enough of them, and being with those whose experience this year has been similar to what I'm living through without Mom was a balm.

To celebrate Mom and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary, which would have been June 16, 2012 if Mom had lived, my brother, and I, along with our families, presented them with a gift certificate for a culinary weekend at The Inn at Little Washington. This amazing Inn and restaurant is in Washington, Virginia, which has some historical significance. The restaurant is world renowned. Thank goodness we decided to present the gift early. Mom and Dad opted to use the gift certificate for a couple of dinners instead of staying overnight since they live only an hour away from Little Washington. They celebrated Mom's birthday a little late last year, since she was getting over a cold on her birthday, but they both did get to enjoy the very special experience of dinner at the Inn. Mom's birthday is January 3. Happy Birthday Mama!

While we were with Dad, the day after Christmas, he treated my family and Brit's, all nine of us including Dad, to a dinner at the Inn. It was so special and magical, and Mom's presence was palpable. When I hugged Wynne, we were each surprised to feel as if Mom was hugging us instead. We all smiled, warm in her continued embrace. Where else would she be in that moment?

Monday, December 17, 2012


'Tis the season . . . the season of having not a moment to spare, that is. Not that I'm complaining. My abundant life is over-full with things I love doing and I only wish there were more hours in the day. So, you guessed it -- I've not been cooking very much. When I arrived home from work this evening, I was so happy to see the little Chinese cartons in my 'fridge from yesterday's Sunday afternoon lunch. I scooped out a mound of brown rice, topped it with a handful of spinach and arugula from the crisper (everything's better with more greens!) then a few spoonfuls of Family Style Tofu and Asparagus with Mushrooms. Mmmm, just remembering the meal I had an hour ago has my mouth watering. Maybe I'm ready for round two! But wait, I've not yet mentioned my little secret -- Ponzu sauce!

This luscious Japanese sauce (I know, I'm pairing Japanese with Chinese, sorry to any who would take offense, but I like to mix it up sometimes) is really a very high-quality, fermented soy sauce with the addition of sudachi citrus, whatever that is. Ponzu is YUM. It is salty, tart and subtly sweet. I sprinkled it sparingly over the leftovers and greens and slightly less sparingly over the starchy brown rice.

Then, for extra zap, I squirted about a teaspoon of Srirachi sauce off to the side of my plate. This flaming hot Chinese sauce must be on the side, in my opinion, since its fire tends to blunt all other flavors unless I only dip the tines of my fork into it before spearing my lovely food. I ate most of the food with ponzu alone, only dipping into the srirachi every third bite or so. I found the combination of all these flavors sublime.

Incidentally, I once read in a magazine that a chef from a reality show (I didn't recognize the name) likes to mix srirachi with Nutella for a decadent dessert spread. Upon reading this, I was intrigued, almost enough to go out and buy another pricey jar of Justin's Hazelnut Butter, the vegan's answer to nutella, but I decided against it since Justin is a bad, bad boy. Check my archived post, "Breaking Up With Paul and Justin" for the backstory.

Do give Ponzu a try if you have a chance.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fast Food

No, not THAT fast food.

I will finally share with you some delicious, nutritious food I have been whipping up for myself and whoever else chooses to partake. There are no recipes today, since the breakneck speed of my life lately (much of it self-imposed) doesn't allow for planning. I just find something appealing in the crisper, listen to the body's intuition about what else to add and pull it together. This melange of chick peas, garlic, tomatoes, onions and collard greens sauteed in olive oil was basically a rip-off of something I saw my fearless leader and friend, Dr. Board, eating recently. Her husband is a wonderful chef and had created some kale with tomatoes for her that had such an intoxicating fragrance. She mentioned she liked to eat it with beans sometimes. So I came home that evening and made something similar from what I had on hand. No kale, so collards; no beans, so chickpeas.

This dinner was loved by all, I think, especially Wynne, who at 15, is beginning to notice the way different foods make her feel, from the physical effects to the subtle energetic and emotional effects. She really loves the mushrooms and asparagus together, simply sauteed in olive oil with a tiny bit of pink himalayan salt. She packs food like this for lunch at school when there are leftovers. Here the veggies are served alongside brown and red rice and collards with purple onions with plenty of earth balance and olive oil.

I'm guessing this one won't win over any new vegans, as beets tend to be contentious, but this is an example of macrobiotics. The notion of "roots and tips" is one way, according to macrobiotics, to obtain more balanced energy from food. The dense yang energy of the root is offset by the upward-growing, expanding ying of the greens. The yang tends to be overpowering, so I really should have used less of the root in this, since I only had so much of the greens. This was simply steamed, the root for about three minutes first, and then the greens on top for another minute. I garnished with black sesame seeds. This would be bland to someone with salt- and sugar-addled tastebuds, but I hardly use any seasoning anymore, so I enjoyed tasting the actual flavor of the food. I was the only one in the household who tried this, so I had some leftovers which weren't so great. Macrobiotically, leftovers don't work anyway, since the energies quickly leave the foods after preparation. So if you try this, do it in a small batch. You can do this with any root veggie which still has its leafy parts -- I understand carrots are especially good this way, though the greens would be more tender, so adjust the cooking time accordingly.

This is an example of one of my attempts to appeal to everyone in the household. Everybody likes pasta, so I stir fried it with these lovelies -- zucchini, onions, garlic, carrots and mushrooms -- in a bit of oil, earth balance and shoyu. My preference would have been gluten-free brown rice pasta, but the others aren't sold on that just yet. Baby steps.

It's now late Sunday afternoon. I had intended to put up the Christmas tree, but I think we would all be better served with something healthy and warm. I think it'll be rice, bean and veggie soup. I'll make a big batch so Wynne will have something to put in her thermos for school. The house will smell amazing too. Wynne's in her room enjoying the new strings on her electric guitar. She's singing her little heart out. She had a concert yesterday, and I was amazed at how her projection and confidence have improved. The smell of warm soup, the sounds of a happy musician . . . I love Sunday afternoons! 

Postscript: Strange Days

In a heartbreaking finish for Georgia fans, Alabama won the South East Conference Championship. The game was one of the best I remember watching. Athletic prowess and strength of spirit were in evidence from all players.

My gratitude for the "perspective lesson" from the other evening is undiminished.

Lick your wounds, boys - you are still Georgia Bulldogs!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Strange Days

Regular readers already know what an odd year this has been for this Midlife Vegan+. It has been full of sorrow and blessings in close succession, so I continue to try to glean any lessons that may be lurking around each bend.

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are pursuing a goal, but obstacles and unexpected hurdles keep popping up, making the acquisition of the goal seem less and less likely? Yesterday was a real-life manifestation of this phenomenon for me. I've been trying to squeeze in as much needed healthcare as I can manage before the end of the year, since our deductible has been met and free benefits are nothing to sneeze at. Yesterday I had a first appointment scheduled with a podiatrist at 9:00, so my plan was to drive straight to work from the appointment and arrive a little early (I'm normally in at 11:00) to catch up on some loose ends and to give my treasured co-worker, Patsy, a chance to do the same. Upon meeting the podiatrist, I was convinced to have some very minor foot surgery right then and there. I asked how long it would take, and was told, "only a few minutes". Long story short, I realized too late that "only a few minutes" can mean two different things to different people. Driving, late, to work, I realized that new detours had been added to my route. Also, it was getting close to lunchtime, so a trip that should have taken five minutes took half an hour. I rolled into work at 12:00 noon. The work day proceeded along a similar vein.

By 7:00 p.m. my toe had begun to throb and it was time to rush home to meet a houseguest. Choosing my route was tricky, as I had to consider the different levels of rerouted traffic from the new detours. As it turned out, I chose wrong. A ten minute trip wound up taking an hour. The traffic lights had not been re-calibrated to account for the new traffic patterns, and as such, only three cars got through each green light traveling in my direction. Unbelievably, there also happened to be a festival in downtown Alpharetta, with people milling about on foot amidst the stopped cars. It was a bit surreal. I had no choice but to sit and wait my turn.

Do you feel the tension? Let's take a break for a second:

Ah -- healthy green juice! . . . Om . . .

Okay, now back to the story:

Such a circumstance opens the mind to rumination. Luckily, I was able to see my predicament for what it should be -- a forced stop. My frenetic pace of late, attempting to be all things to all people, has been a form of avoidance of the inner work I need to do. Being crazy-busy and reasonably successful feels better than really exploring what I have lost this year. Just as I was beginning to dig into this idea, sirens sounded. Straight ahead, spinning blue lights appeared in the opposite lane, coming in my direction. I started to wonder how emergency vehicles would maneuver through the sea of parked cars, but then I realized the traffic jam was really only in the direction I was traveling. several police cars raced toward me and past my position, followed by shiny new buses with black windows -- one, two, three . . . I counted up to nine. "What in the world?" I thought to myself. Different ideas began to pop into my head about who might be in the buses. We do have a vibrant music scene in the Atlanta area, and Alpharetta is picturesque and a few movies have been shot here, so maybe . . . But then I saw it -- wrapping up the procession was a smaller luxury van with the "Bama" logo on the side, followed by a few more police cars. It was the University of Alabama Football team! The SEC final between Alabama and University of  Georgia is today at 4:00, and the team must have been practicing at my son's old high school yesterday afternoon before returning to a hotel in Alpharetta. Instead of Athens, where UGA is, the game will take place in the Georgia Dome, where the Atlanta Falcons play.

If you are not into college football, my excitement about this game will be lost on you. Normally it might have been lost on me as well, since I graduated from William and Mary, a school not renowned for its football team. But my firstborn, Hans, is now a Georgia Bulldog!

Here he is with me last summer.

Becoming acquainted with the University of Georgia football culture has been an unexpected surprise this year. Football in the southeast is a very big deal. My words won't do the experience justice. You'd have to attend a game yourself. In Athens, football fans bring tailgating to a new level. Women wear pretty dresses and the tailgaters set up tents, tables with tablecloths, lots of food, a full bar, candles, chairs, music, flowers.

Suddenly, people begin to check their watches and a flurry of dismantling occurs so the party can be put away in time for the "Dawg Walk". At first, I didn't understand what this was. We all ran over to the street adjacent to the Stadium, and a number of large buses with black windows, very much like Alabama's, pulled up. Then I got it -- the "Dawg Walk" The doors of the buses opened and the Georgia Dawgs, big, strong, giant children stepped off and walked, smiling and waving, into the stadium. I say "children" because there are some "true freshmen" on the team who are the age of my son -- 18 years old! These enormous, strong kids are like movie stars to this southern community -- they are incredible athletes, with the added benefits of the fearlessness and pliability of youth. Hans has met a couple of these stars and he says they are just normal kids -- down to earth, friendly, normal.

Whoever wins the game today will be the SEC champion. This background information will hopefully explain how amazing it was for me to be stuck in stopped traffic, after an especially stuck day, only to find that I was in the right place at the right time to have a brush with greatness.

Let me explain the significance of this in the evolution of my grief. I used to be very spiritually connected. I was raised in an esoteric family, and evidence of the oneness of all things was all around us. I have always had very specific beliefs. Then my precious mom, my best friend, died. Suddenly I was no longer sure of anything. What if it had all been a fairy tale? What if she really just ceased to exist? Nothing could feel more crushing. I couldn't think it. I got very busy. I was blessed with rewarding work with wonderful people -- with the doctor who has kept me well -- who was the very embodiment of the kind of faith I used to have. Then she died too. My crisis of faith deepened. I shut down and got busier.

So, being frustrated with being stuck, and then seeing how the brush of greatness in the midst of the stuckness couldn't really be a coincidence has begun to open a little chink in the wall of doubt I've erected. Blessedly, after the Alabama team proceeded along their unimpeded route, I was still left stuck for a little while longer. Remembrances of other bits of proof that what I used to believe is real began to pop into my head, one after another.

I remembered my funny little sunshine, Wynne.  Growing up has a way of damping our magic down. It's still there, only less accessible. I wouldn't change a thing about my wonderful daughter at 15, but being stuck in that traffic, after that brush with greatness, I began to remember the gift to all of us of her early connectedness.

This photo is old and blurry, but I hope you can see that, as I am looking at her reflection, she is looking through the mirror right into the lens of the camera. She was only two months old here. One week before she was nine months old, the sturdy little thing began walking and speaking in full sentences, though at first I was the only one who could decipher her language, perhaps because there was an intuitive connection between us.

An example of what she would say is: "chunchine on my lodelch one mo time pleege!" tr: "Sunshine on My Shoulders one more time please!"

Another would be: Aay bubba? a blountain? tr: Where's my brother? a mountain/fountain?

"Blountain" was a multi-purpose word for her, meaning both mountain and fountain. Only further context would help me determine which. Her other multi-purpose word was "blow-blow" meaning pillow or elbow.

But I digress . . . Wynne's connectedness:  One afternoon, for no reason, when she was about 5 years old, Wynne began asking me about earthquakes. She became more and more agitated as the evening went on, and even woke up in the middle of the night, terrified of an earthquake. I soothed her back to sleep. At about 5:00 a.m. the doors on the armoire in my room began slamming loudly and my bed seemed to be bouncing off the floor. I was so disoriented at first that I thought I was dreaming because of Wynne's earlier discussion. By the time I woke fully, it was over. The kids had slept through the whole thing. I turned on the TV to see if there was anything about it on the news, and sure enough, there had been an earthquake, right here in Georgia!

More recently, Wynne woke one morning to tell me about a very vivid dream. She was surfing in Japan and the "waves were HUGE!" I asked her how she knew she was in Japan, and she said she didn't know how, she just did. Three days later the Asian Tsunami happened.

There have been many many more bits of "evidence" around Wynne, but also around my mom, both of my grandmothers, and throughout my whole life in general. Sitting in traffic last night was actually a gift, as it instigated this train of thought, this reopening of the possibility that my former faith eventually might not seem so far out of reach.

Well, it's time to get ready to watch the game -- Go Bulldogs!!

Next post will include food!

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Dad came to visit over the long weekend and we had such a wonderful time with him. We took a day trip to Athens to see Hans but otherwise took it easy and indulged in plenty of delicious food, drink and good company.

But the days of pasta and vodka have come to an end. Now that Dad has gone home, the kids are back at school, Andres is out of town and my office is still closed while details are settled for the reopening, there is nothing to distract me from my general state of imbalance. A loss of equilibrium is normal during certain times of life, such as where I presently find myself. With the recent losses of my amazing Mom and also my employer and friend, and with a half-empty nest as my eldest is in college, it's no wonder I sometimes struggle to decipher which way is up.

I'm so glad I'm familiar with the basics of macrobiotic principles. When I'm irritable and generally out of whack, I reach for greens and grains. Above is my dream dinner this evening -- basmati and red rice with a little earth balance (that part isn't macrobiotic) and sauteed red onion with green cabbage, shoyu and lemon. This was very delicious and centering. As I ate it with my daughter I could feel my irritation subsiding and a general sense of well-being descending over me like a cocoon. The results of food-as-medicine can be quite dramatic when the system is generally pure and free of toxins. I had seconds of these dishes, and felt even more peaceful. For another, grainless, macrobiotic healing, check out Nabe Vegetables, a post I wrote last year when I was just beginning to explore macrobiotics.

Pickles also figure prominently in macrobiotic wisdom, and homemade are best. The probiotic benefits are astounding, and can be obtained from a very small portion each day - a tablespoons-worth or so. Here is my latest batch of umeboshi plum vinegar pickles. I used Alicia Silverstone's recipe from The Kind Diet, but I utilized my own homegrown cucumber, red onion and radishes. Isn't this a pretty jarful? If you make these, follow the instructions carefully, leaving the jar open on the counter like this for only up to three days, and then covering and refrigerating. I played fast and loose with the instructions once and on the fourth day at room temperature was greeted with a moldy, algae-covered mess. Up to three days, though, has never gone wrong for me.

Tonight when I was becoming centered from my greens-n-grains, I was enjoying the company of my daughter so much -- just the girls! We curled up on the couch and watched "Friends". Wynne surprised me by suggesting it. She had found it on her own once and had become a fan -- she likes the humor of the writing. What a cool kid to appreciate something like this that was filmed before she was born. She never ceases to amaze and delight me. When she goes to Starbucks with her friends, since she has an unusual name (pronounced "Winnie" but spelled "Wynne") she gives "Voldemort" as her name. She loves it when a barista plays along by writing "He who must not be named" on her cup! The girl is a trip! What a lucky mom I am!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My Friends, and Other Beautiful Things

These roses are from Dad. Every girl needs to be a princess in her father's eyes, and I am that, for which I'm so grateful. Thanks, Daddy!

Life challenges have a way of illuminating priorities, which is something else for which I'm grateful. Among my many blessings are my friends. There are "forever friends", those who I may not see for years but with whom it's effortless picking up right where we left off. There are situational friends, those we share our lives with as part of our greater families. And then there are those with whom we forge unbreakable and meaningful bonds through shared experiences, particularly those of a traumatic nature. I am so lucky to have some of each. Today I want to talk about my friends at work. Dealing with the sudden passing of our employer and friend has cemented a bond amongst our little team. The future of our venture is uncertain, but we are hopeful.

Linda, our nurse, is always coming up with ideas for healthy food for me, especially things my family might want to try. This chocolate fudge protein cake, from a recipe she found on the website was wonderful. Since it is not my recipe, I won't share it, but look for it on the website mentioned if you are interested. It utilizes hemp protein powder. The recipe only makes one little cup-sized cake, so I doubled it and made six tiny muffins. Instead of 20-25 minutes, these were done in 14. Linda replaced the xylitol with truvia. I'm not crazy about sugar substitutes, or sugar either for that matter, so I used a little maple syrup instead. Most folks probably wouldn't like the dark, fudgy, hardly sweet muffins as much as I do, but they are just right for my taste. I think next time I might use molasses instead, and less water with the egg replacers. I love that dark black, rich flavor of molasses. It reminds me of a pint of guinness - yum. I have another recipe from Linda for risotto which I look forward to trying. Linda is mostly vegan herself. In fact the whole staff opts for healthy food. Since we work in a practice where nutrition figures prominently in the treatment of some very serious chronic illnesses, It doesn't make sense to eat junk. We see the results, either way, of the choices people make.

Sue, one of the doctors on staff, brought these goodies for me the other day. They were from her CSA. She had seen my post about the demise of my lovely okra stalks, so she generously shared this bounty. I see caponata and gumbo in my future, and of course the spaghetti squash will be relished, if with only a little earth balance.

Though it is not yet "business as usual", Betsy, an M.D. who worked closely with Dr. Gustafson and who is now the fearless leader of our little team, is busy clearing practical hurdles that presently keep us from continuing in the good work of healing.

In other news, I was looking at some old photos recently and got a kick out of this one:

That's Wynne posing for
me before her 8th grade dance last year. You can tell she was not too thrilled to be photographed. Dressing up is not her thing. But the best part is Emma photobombing her in the background! I was so busy looking at Wynne, I didn't even notice Emma until I was uploading the photos from the camera. A good belly-laugh -- that's a beautiful thing!

Monday, August 20, 2012

R.I.P. Christy

 We lost Christy last week. Just writing that feels like a punch to the gut. The photo shows her in her element, with her beloved Ivan. Longtime AMLV+ readers might remember my extolling the virtues of this amazing woman. Christine Gustafson, M.D., has kept me and thousands of others well through acute and chronic illness. Christy started in Internal Medicine and trained with Dr. Andrew Weil (yes, you've seen him on Oprah) in Integrative Medicine. She has received many additional degrees and certifications through the years to complement her skills. Christy's care has kept me well and able-bodied since 2005, and without the compromise to quality of life that mainstream treatments cause.

Christy stepped in when my precious mother passed in March and offered me a lifeline -- a job. It was a chance to be a part of something wonderful, something different and good, something in which I believe. Working with Christy and her team gave me pockets of respite during the worst parts of my grief, and showed me how good it feels to help others in need.

Dr. Gustafson passed unexpectedly a week ago. Our staff is reeling and unsure of the future of the practice. Christy was brilliant, a forward-thinker with impeccable instincts. She was selfless and creative. She was in touch with something bigger. She was my healer and inspiration. She was my dear friend. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Draco Hortus

"What is this we see?" you ask. These are the remains of two lovely okra plants mulched with large clumps of Emma's fur. The stalks were about three feet tall and crowned with beautiful, spreading leaves, and then one morning I found them like this, with about 18 inches of stalk remaining. The sweet potatoes were completely obliterated with no evidence they were ever in the garden. The Chinese long beans also met the same fate as last year, chewed off close to the soil, leaving abundant climbing vines to die on the trellis. Is it Buster again, the darling, naughty chipmunk? I think not. Buster wouldn't have been able to scale these slender stalks without breaking them under his weight. I thought about deer, but the aluminum fence is topped with pointy tips and the scale of the garden is only 5'x8' up against a brick wall, so there would be no room for a deer to clear the fence without hitting the wall.

Then I remembered his face -- glaring, lurking each time I came out to the garden, and I knew who had been sampling my veggies -- a garden dragon. Unlike the skink-like creatures with the blue tails we often see around here, Draco Hortus (his name, henceforth) has a nubby, horned gray face  and a long tail. Draco is more like a smallish iguana, and would be easily able to climb anywhere he likes. Since I got the bright idea to spread my dog's coat around the garden I think I've spoiled his fun. I no longer see much evidence of his philandering, and I haven't seen his greedy little face in a while. I'm glad of this discovery, since there's no shortage of dog hair around my house. When I sweep, I often imagine I could stuff a pillow or create a new puppy from the pile. It's nice to have a more practical use for it.

In happier garden news, I have had success with tomatoes and cucumbers so far, and the radishes are looking good too. We cleaned up the rest of our yard a bit and here are the results:

A new stone path and a patch of begonias . . .

 The stone steps down to the lower part  of the yard . . .

We trimmed some trees so we can actually see the house from the street now. It all feels much cleaner and was way overdue.

I recently made it through another milestone -- my first birthday without my mom. As expected, the days leading up to it were rough. Every year, a day or two before my birthday, my mom would call me to tell the same story again, where she was however many years ago on that very day. She was heavy with me, and bursting with excitement, and couldn't wait to meet me. Then, on the day itself, I'd get a message on the machine with no speaking, only sweet Jeanine singing, "Happy Birth - day to you!", every last word of it in a staccato cadence. Through the sound of her voice we could hear her smiling from ear to ear. A year ago when she left the message for my 46th birthday, I had no idea it would be the last. I am so blessed to have had each moment I shared with her.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blessings in the Midst of Change

Hello again lovelies! Do you ever find that exponential change in one area of life creates like change in other aspects as well? It seems that's where I'm living lately. In the space of a handful of months, I've lost my mom, my firstborn is leaving the nest and I've become a working girl again. The scope of my job is changing rapidly, keeping pace with all the other aspects. This strange time of life is frightening, unsettling, exhilarating. I keep my eyes wide open for the many blessings bursting forth all around me in the midst of this chaotic growth period. There. I'll let that serve as an explanation/excuse for my meager postings of late.

Some of my beautiful blessings:

 Here are my wonderful kids at the Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot Center a couple of weeks ago. Epcot was on the way to Port Canaveral where we boarded the "Freedom of the Seas" (Royal Caribbean). Because we had such a wonderful cruise aboard the "Serenade of the Seas"with my parents, my brother and his family last summer, we decided to do it again. This time it was just the four of us since, without Mom, Dad is not ready to pay for the double occupancy stateroom for just himself. That's what he says, but I think he is really not yet ready for all the cruising memories. He and my Mom cruised a lot. We are hoping to get Dad back into it again when he is ready. This summer, Dad decided to vacation with my brother's family in Phuket. Dad will stay on in China, where they live, a couple more weeks.

Here's my little rock star in front of about a third of the ship as we were about to board.

The ship is huge. This is a shot of the Promenade, which is really a shopping and restaurant mall in the middle of the vessel.

Like last summer, there were so many bountiful choices for a vegan. I've no idea why I took no photos of the food this year. It was beautiful and delicious. I even had miso soup for breakfast! I usually had a gorgeous salad for lunch, overflowing with beans, seeds or lentils. There were whole grains and curries, vegetables prepared in salads with luscious (non-dairy) sauces or simply sauteed. I enjoyed strawberry kiwi water and mango water with my meals.

The cruise was such a wonderful experience and we met so many interesting people, with whom we are still in touch. We were speaking with one of our favorite bartenders about my parents and showed him their photo from our cruise last year and he remembered them from several years ago when they cruised on the very same ship!

There were many talented performers aboard. A highlight was an amazing ice skating show (yes - there is an ice rink on the boat!) We had a favorite bar for before dinner drinks where we listened to live music and watched people dancing, and making their way to dinner. This was especially nice on the formal nights. There seems to be a little more magic in the air when folks feel they look their best.

Speaking of magic, one of our favorite spots onboard the ship was the outer 4th deck, under the shade of the lifeboats. Lounge chairs were put to good use on this quiet, all-but-deserted, broad deck, overlooking the passage of the deep blue sea. Once, I was all alone down there with the daily sodoku puzzle, and I realized that Mom was doing it with me. I know it sounds crazy, but I actually have no doubt. The process was effortless and I was filled with joy, not grief. After completing the puzzle in a flash, I pulled out the one from the day before, which I had given up on since I had become hopelessly stuck. Sure enough, zip zip zip, Mom made short work of that one as well. Thanks Mom! It is incredible how healing that moment was for me.

More blessings -- a miracle, really. As we approached St Thomas early in the morning, I was lucky enough to wake and step out upon the balcony to see the first few rays of sun.

It rose quickly and dramatically -- what a show, from the comfort of our room!

The whole sunrise took about five minutes, then clouds rolled in, and we witnessed this little rainstorm:

The unobstructed view of life at sea provides such an amazing theater for nature's stunning power. The photos are pretty, but they don't do justice to the majesty of those fleeting moments. The rain was over as quickly as the sunrise.

My favorite island is St. John, I think. We docked at St. Thomas, another beautiful place, but, after a few hours exploring there, we took a ferry to St. John, since we had already experienced St. Thomas last year. The ferry boat ride was an adventure of its own, as we crashed over swells and huge wakes from other vessels -- so much fun! Our time on St. John was limited, but we made the most of it. we asked some locals how to get to some of the more beautiful beaches, and we were directed to a rocky trail up a mountain. The most amazing thing happened. We were all hot, tired, our feet hurt and we had no idea where we were going or how long it would take, but nobody complained. There were silly jokes and surprises along the way. We encountered five deer at different points along the trail, and a couple of large, wild mules  who were quite daunting for a few minutes as we had to decide to pass near them or turn back. We nervously skirted past them as they gave us the evil eye. We saw iridescent pheasants in the underbrush, wild chickens with their babies, many large iguanas and even a mongoose! After an hour of hard work we arrived here, which might just be my favorite place on earth:

Honeymoon Beach, St. John! We quickly shed our shoes and stinky outer clothing, hanging them from the branches of these trees to air out, and then we sank into the deliciously cool, clean water. Ahhh! This beach can only be reached by boat or by hiking. We lingered for an hour, swimming and snorkeling. A stingray harmlessly brushed our feet and fish of all sizes and colors were fearlessly sharing the pristine water with us. Since we were unsure how long it would take to get back, we headed out after we were fully refreshed. There were not many humans here, but we asked the folks we did see about what would happen if we took the trail in the opposite direction from how we had come. We were told we would come upon a resort at Caneel Bay where we could probably catch a taxi to the harbor. So we took it. This last hike was easier, mostly downhill, and took only about 20 minutes. we found the resort, built on the ruins of the stone buildings of a sugar mill, and got our ride back to the boat in the nick of time. We were all so proud of ourselves for stepping outside our comfort zones and reaping the rewards of our efforts.

Blessings -- grateful!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Cuke-less Juice

It's not the prettiest thing you've ever seen, but that's what a carrot will do to juice. Remember the color wheel: green+orange=brown. The flavor and physical effects were lovely, though. Regular AMLV+ readers know by now that for the last few months I've over-shared ad nauseum the grief process after my dear Mom's unexpected passing. It is what it is, and I will either continue to share it or cease writing altogether. You've probably noticed I've resorted to a bit of both. Feel free to either bear with me or tune out. You won't hurt my feelings. The only benefit to having one's heart torn out -- nothing else could ever hurt as much.

The first couple of months I deluded myself into thinking I was supergirl, since I was still upright and seemingly fully functioning, actually working professionally for the first time in 20 years. I had let my enthusiasm for a more macrobiotic approach to food slide, however, sometimes indulging in sugar, alcohol, pastas, breads and processed "vegan junk food". My habit of at least two leafy-greens servings per day, as well as my daily juicing, fell by the wayside.

A couple of weeks ago I began what I'll call "phase two" of the grief -- I've seen a shamanic energy healer, had a psychic angel reading, I've prayed. I've napped, I've cooked whole grains, I've remembered my leafy greens. I've eschewed as much conflict and turbulent energy as I could, whether it be in the media, or in my living environment. I've purposely released the tight hold I've had on my emotions, allowing myself to "break open". Through this process, I have "felt" my mother, and have even smelled her breath -- the gold Listerine she used to gargle. She was the only one I knew who opted for the gold kind over the mint, presumably because it seemed more medicinal. Smelling this unmistakable scent was comforting -- I've missed her so.

After I saw the energy healer, the back pain began in earnest. I have debilitating muscle spasms right at the heart and throat chakras. The primary care doctor has prescribed muscle relaxers, steroids and codeine, each of which provide temporary relief, but add to the overall taxation of my system."Trigger point" injections of traumeel have helped a little, but I understand this pain to be part of the process of tending to what I've been trying to avoid. I'll go back to the energy healer on Tuesday, and hopefully she will be able to help me to begin putting myself back together again.

But, back to the juice -- It's too darn hot to go grocery shopping by the time I'm home from work each day, so the other morning I made juice from what I already had in the fridge. I usually have piles of cucumbers, but I guess I used them in salads, so I made do with a fennel bulb, a head of romaine, a couple of stalks of celery, a carrot (tending those neglected lower chakras!) a knob of ginger and half a lemon. The result -- delicious, calmer digestion, "a peaceful easy feeling" and a rooting to the earth, at least for a little while.

In other news, my garden is finally flourishing after months of neglect. My winter crop of romaine and collards went mostly uneaten by humans as it bolted early in this Georgia heat, and was inedible. I pulled it out late and added it to the composter.

This is the left side of the garden, which I planted before the demise of the winter greens. There are chinese long beans from the dried pods of a few beans from last year, cucumbers, tomatoes and okra. I've not seen Buster yet -- the darling, marauding chipmunk from last season.

On the right side of the garden, where the winter greens were, I've planted the root end of some organic celery I bought at the grocery store (I saw this technique on Pinterest -- eat the top, plant the bottom --  it really works!) some french breakfast radishes and several zucchini seeds. Only two of the zucchini seeds germinated, but that's fine, since these plants require a lot of real estate.

My husband surprised me a couple of years ago by building my little garden while I was away at my girls' weekend. He named it after Grandma Eula's magical creation, featured in "My Vegan Story" -- it was one of the sweetest things he's done for me.

Finally, I will close with this pretty view from my garden to the front yard. As with all beautiful things, sunlight through the trees reminds me of Mom, and I am grateful.

Monday, June 18, 2012

I'm Cookin'!

Another ubiquitous dish, but bear with me . . . at least I've got my appetite back and am creating in the kitchen again!

On Fathers' Day, The kids were fast asleep until noon (teenagers) so I made Andres three nice eggs over medium with some whole grain toast. I offered to make french toast (his fave) but he's been more health conscious lately, so I'm feeding that trend. Besides that nice breakfast, I did nothing at all, and in fact remained in my pajamas all day long. Andres was sort of lying around too, so I didn't feel bad about indulging in sloth. The first Fathers' Day request was that we all go out to lunch together, but since we were so pajamafied and the kids were similarly sluggish, we opted for our weekly Chinese takeout, but we had it for lunch instead of dinner.

Normally I have no qualms about ordering whatever I want from our awesome Chinese restaurant, since I'm the only one who wastes nothing. Ever. It may take me three days to eat two gigantic entrees plus a large brown rice, but I waste nothing. But on Sunday I decided, since I had half a block of tofu left over from my fab tofu feta creation, not to order the Chinese tofu. This time I ordered only my beloved Garlic Baby Bok Choy (will never pass that up) plus the large brown rice, of course. The others ordered their usual, and will waste it or not, yada yada yada.

From my remaining half-block, I created this delicious tofu curry -- no recipe (sorry, I made it on the fly) but here's what's in it: tofu, half a tomato, diced, a couple stalks of celery with leaves, diced, a ginormous organic carrot, diced, a couple of scallions, thinly sliced, and curry powder, turmeric and salt to taste. I threw the carrots and celery in first on a pretty high heat with olive oil. I think I put the curry and turmeric in next, just so I could sort of cook it a little to round out the flavor. then came the tofu and the tomatoes. I only added the onion as I was taking it off the burner. I wanted the greens to still be fresh and bright. This was fabulous and healing (turmeric is anti-inflammatory and my middle-aged back is riddled with arthritis), and went very well with my Chinese takeout standbys.

This morning, after my fabulous Fathers' Day of sloth, I felt like a rock star!

Today's Jeanine story:
My mom was a "waste not, want not" kind of girl, so she saved everything, and carried a very large bag almost everywhere she went, so she could always be counted upon to have what anyone might need. Once, when my family of origin was at Epcot Center, one of us got a cut (I think it was my brother).

My mom said, "Ooooh, I think I have a tissue or a napkin,"

For what seemed like several minutes (I'm sure it was really only a few moments) she dug around in her giant, decorative bag. Finally, success! She held up a large paper towel with grease stains. Upon closer examination, my mom's triumphant expression changed as she was momentarily perplexed. Then she began giggling as she proceeded to dig deeper into the abyss that was her handbag.

"I think that used to hold some fried chicken!" she announced, as tickled with herself as we were. Who knows how long that fried chicken had been in there!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I Finally Made Something!

I know, it's only a salad -- how boring, but I found myself uncharacteristically inspired to work with flavors recently. As regular readers know, lately my appetite has been AWOL, so I've been without inspiration to create culinarily. But I came home from work the other day craving a Greek salad, so I made this. For the "feta" I marinated blocks of tofu in fresh lemon juice, garlic powder and salt. I didn't measure, I just kept changing the proportions until I liked the flavor. It actually did taste like a very mild feta cheese, if I am remembering correctly. Besides the tofu feta, I only added a drizzle of olive oil to the ingredients and stirred it up.

In 1985 I spent a couple of months in Greece with my parents and brother. We spent some time in the homes of Greek friends, and found that there was a Greek salad served every day, sometimes twice a day (lunch and dinner) in addition to the other fresh offerings. Sometimes the salad would vary slightly with the inclusion of bell peppers or black olives, but the core ingredients: tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and olive oil were standard. The above salad did blast me back to the past a bit.

During this time of working to find balance and peace, the little bit I've learned about macrobiotic principles has come in handy. I tend to spend most of my time in the upper chakras (flighty, escapist, ungrounded) so when I'm feeling especially disconnected and unfocused, root veggies are an amazing way to tap into those elusive lower chakras and become grounded again.

Parsnips to the rescue! Have you tried them? they are a wonderful, sweet and mild root, looking a bit like off-white carrots. This is a photo of this morning's juice veggies -- parsnips, romaine, kale, cucumber, apple, ginger and lemon. This combination was delicious and pretty sweet despite the fact that the apple was about the size of a golf ball. Here's the finished product:

Lovely, and just what I needed to wash down my daily prescribed dose of goodies:

The injection is the only actual pharmaceutical, but the supplements are all prescribed by the trusted doctor who has kept me well and my MS quiet for oh, about 7 or 8 years now (now my boss). In addition to this, I also give myself a B12 shot once a week. We do what we need to do to have optimum health, and I am so grateful to have cracked the code for what works for me.

Today is my Mom's and Dad's 50th wedding anniversary. She's been gone three months now. I spoke with Dad this morning. He's a real trooper, and while he has his moments, is doing what he needs to do to stay healthy and balanced and seems to be handling his grief surprisingly well.

Today's Jeanine story:  When mom and dad were dating, one night he brought her to his parents house, the beloved "Homehearth" featured in "My Vegan Story" here on this blog. My grandmother, Eula, offered my mom some of her homemade wine. My mom hesitated. She had never before tried alcohol, but she didn't want to be rude, and it was very important to her to impress her potential in-laws.

"Harold," Grandmommy said to Grandaddy, "this girl has never tried wine before --  get her some from the good batch!"

Grandaddy put down the large glass jug he was holding and went searching in the cupboard. He soon returned with another large glass jug. He ceremoniously poured my young mom a glass of the good stuff. My mom took her first sip and had to work to suppress a grimace.

"Is this what I've been missing?" she thought to herself. It tasted awful.

She forced herself to choke down most of it over the course of her otherwise lovely meal, and Grandmommy must have noticed the look on my mom's face at some point because she got up and picked up mom's glass, smelled it, then tasted the contents.

"Harold!" Grandmommy exclaimed, "You've poured the girl a glass of vinegar!" (my grandparents also made their own vinegar).

My mom used to love to tell this story, over and over again, as she did with many other stories. She was such a lovely story teller, I never tired of the retelling.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Go Georgia Bulldogs!

My photographic offerings for this post are woefully inadequate, and here is why:  Since I got my smart phone, I've caught a lot of flack from those near and dear to me because I do not fully utilize its capabilities. In other words, I use my ipod for an ipod, my camera for a camera and my phone for a phone, instead of using my phone for all three. So, determined to be a modern woman, when I accompanied my son to Athens, GA for his two-day orientation, I only brought my phone. As a result, I came home with a couple of lame, short videos. I thought I was taking photos. I'll figure it out, but I haven't yet.

The good news -- my son did graduate, with honors, no less, and is now a Georgia Bulldog! I'd never before gone to UGA since my husband had taken Hans on his tour after he got accepted, so I decided to go along for the ride this time. It's a good thing I did. The whole orientation process was so well planned, with separate programs for students and parents, with some parts overlapping. The kids stayed in a dorm, and we parents had the option to stay in the dorm as well, for a small fee, but it was recommended we leave the kids on their own instead. So I got a hotel room.

Our 48 hours in Athens were amazing. I was impressed with the facilities, the organization, the food, the town, the people -- Hans and I agreed that the whole time we were there, neither of us had encountered anyone less than happy. The food service for UGA has won awards for the best university food in the country, and I could see why. The variety of available options was staggering, and all were fresh and expertly prepared. This vegan came away from the bountiful salad bar and brown rice, beans and vegetables fully satisfied. I have a short video of one of my lunches from when I thought I was taking a photo, but it's better left to your imagination. The dinner the first night was a special feast for just the kids, so we parents were encouraged to explore Athens on our own. I made use of my GPS (yeah, I've learned how to use that at least!) and plugged in a restaurant that was recommended by a girl at work -- The Grit.

Yep, this is all I've got to illustrate this part of the adventure, which is such a pity. I thought I was taking amazing photos of the most decadent fresh Indian food I've ever eaten, but it turns out I wasn't. But I'll tell you about it. Picture me, 46-year-old full-time-mom of 18 years, in a strange town, walking into this hip vegetarian eatery in an old, historic building on Prince Street all by myself and sidling up to the counter. I must have looked out of place. Most patrons were a couple of decades behind me. They were an eclectic bunch, a young family, a few co-eds, but were mostly paired off or in groups. The few who were solo bore tats or dreds which automatically gave them an air of confidence and self-assuredness. The server asked if I had an order to go.

"No," I said, "I think I'll stay a while," and ordered a beer. Then I asked the server what he would recommend for a vegan. He suggested I try the special -- an Indian feast, but without the yogurt raita. So I did. There was a delicate coconut tofu curry -- not too sweet -- with jasmine rice. There was a lovely piece of naan, thick and filling with chunks of yukon gold potatoes within, and a tangy tomato chutney on the side. This was all delicious, but my very favorite part of the meal surprised me. It was a shredded carrot slaw, with raisins and lemon. Carrot slaws are ubiquitous, and thus on the boring side, but not this one. There were little caraway seeds, and the fresh lemon and raisins made the flavor very bright and different. I was sorry to get to the bottom of the bowl. This meal was so wonderful that I ate past the point of comfort. By the time I was considering packing up a portion of it, there wasn't enough of it left to justify packing, so I just kept eating and eating until it was all gone. This part of my journey took me way out of my comfort zone. I was very proud of myself for branching out.

In contrast to my own technology illiteracy, witness my daughter's creativity with her friends -- I think there's an app which enables one to make pictures of initials like this from photos of body parts. This was accompanied by a text which read "C is for Cheryl"

I'm so proud of my kids!  I want to be like Wynne when I grow up. At a young age she has learned perspective and balance. She's just amazing. Hans has overcome so much with his health issues and has a bright future. I really enjoyed my time at the University of Georgia and I think it'll be a great place for him. I'm glad to be part of the Georgia Bulldog family!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Lazy Food Season + An Island Mystery

During this strange time of life I will continue to bore those of you who are tuning in to see fabulous vegan creations.

Mourning is odd, and I gather that it can vary widely from person to person. For me, being very busy and productive is a balm, probably because I am avoiding tending to it, which feels like what I need for a while, until a cushion of time has passed. In the midst of my busy life, there's not much appetite, so I am really just eating for fuel. Dark leafies are key, and I'm not skimping on the healthy fats. Fresh green juice in the morning is about all I can manage before lunchtime. Here are a couple more lazy, fatty foods which give me the energy I need:

I went through this jar in about two weeks -- on a loaf of Eziekiel bread.

Have you tried this? It's yummy, but really too sweet. It's easy to put in a thermos and take to work, though, and gives me the calories I need. I know I should tend to my diet more lovingly soon, but not until I get an appetite. It doesn't seem worth the effort yet.

Now for my "island mystery" -- A couple of weeks ago I was carrying several bottles of wine into the kitchen from the garage, and as I went to place them on the kitchen island, a bottle of chardonnay slipped from my fingers and fell about four inches, crashing onto the granite. Here's the result:

It's a terrible photo, but hopefully you can see that the glass bottle, totally unscathed and without a scratch, took a chunk out of the solid rock. The chunk was actually completely pulverized into dust, and the chardonnay was no worse from the encounter.

Fast forward a week -- as I was emptying the dishwasher, the basin of my coveted Breville juicer also slipped from my fingers and landed on the granite. Here's the result of that mishap:

I was pretty bummed until I realized I should be counting my blessings for even having a Breville juicer, and also because it was the top of the spout which broke off and not the bottom, so the juicing is only slightly more messy.

So, the mystery I'm puzzling is why is solid granite weaker than glass but stronger than plastic? Also, why do I keep dropping things? {shrug}

Changing gears, here's a miracle in my own backyard (that's how I like to think of beautiful things now, anyway):

A sunny deluge -- isn't it pretty?

Today's Jeanine story:

When our firstborn was little, we travelled from Detroit to Alexandria, VA, to visit my parents. After settling in for an hour or so, we decided to go to the nearby mall to pick up a few things while Mom and Dad got started on dinner. Halfway there, we realized we had left the stroller at their house, so we turned around to get it. As we got closer to their house, we noticed a woman in full sprint on the sidewalk coming toward us. Something seemed wrong -- the woman was not dressed for a workout, so it appeared there might be an emergency of some kind.

"What's wrong with that woman?" my husband asked, alarmed, as we got closer.

Suddenly I realized who it was, "It's my Mom!" I said, in a panic.

We pulled up to her and stopped, and she ceased her forward momentum as well.

"Mom! What's wrong?" I stammered.

My mom smiled her pretty smile and said, "You forgot the stroller, didn't you?"

"But why are you running down the road?" I asked, still worried and confused.

"I just wanted to squeeze in a little workout!" she answered, matter-of-factly.

That was Mom -- fashionable bob haircut, red lipstick, cardigan sweater, slacks, leather flats, 18" strand of pearls (real) in full swing from side to side as she allowed her long, lean legs to extend fully in an olympian stride. She'd never let something as simple as a lack of time keep her from a good workout! She was practical to the extreme and never worried people would judge her for something as silly as her chosen workout wardrobe. And you know what? She was so cool, I actually don't think anyone who knew her did judge her -- but she did make us smile!